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Breaking In: Melanie Theisen

Bungie has always put a lot of effort into sustaining a steamy love affair with the people who play our games. We gain so much from those relationships: things like insight, intel, inspiration – not to mention humbling beat-downs in competitive match-ups. The only problem is that, in order to complete that equation, you had to speak English. We’ve always been stronger with languages like C++ than we have been with, say, German. To help us broaden our horizons, we’ve recruited people like this nice lady.

Who are you, and what do you do at Bungie?  

MT:  Hiya, my name is Melanie and I'm the German Localization Editor. I translate everything that Bungie does into German, be it ViDocs,, the Bungie Mobile App, things that appear in-game, and everything in between.

Why is this needed? 

Whoa! I’m asking the questions around here…  So, why is this needed?

MT:  Well, we do strive for world domination. An important step is being able to communicate with other nations!

So your work will actually change the way the world relates to Bungie and Destiny?

MT:  People who speak and understand German, not only German native speakers, but also the ones who speak and understand German better than English, will be able to enjoy our game without problems. Hooray!

When you’re not helping to make Bungie more Deutsch friendly, how do you translate your boundless energy into real world activities?

MT:  Surprise, I game a lot (console and handheld). I also love books, comics, yoga, and I like going to concerts (alternative, industrial) or grabbing a drink or two with friends. Most of all, I like spending time with my great husband. Come winter, the couch, a blanket, and a good game are my best friends. Wait, no, I'll be crunching.

And you’ll be in excellent company. Has making the world safer for kick-ass games always been a part of your life plan?

MT:  I always wanted to live in different places, and that I did. I never had a very specific career goal, or it changed so often and was so insignificant that I don't remember anymore. Somehow, I always made the right choices and things fell into place. I guess I was lucky. At one point (age 17), I knew I wanted to study languages.

You chose an interesting goal for yourself at a young age. How did that impact your schooling?

MT:  My whole education is based on learning languages. It started with Latin in fifth grade, then French in seventh grade. I added English in ninth grade. In eleventh grade, I immersed myself in my mother tongue, German. Afterwards, I went to University in Bonn and got a Master’s Degree in Chinese and Japanese translations/linguistics. I tried to squeeze in some Korean, Cantonese, and Swedish as well. Since translating and editing is what I do for a living, I still use basically all of what I studied.

I can’t imagine having that many voices in my head. How did you bring that multi-lingual chorus to Bungie?

MT:  I worked as a German Loc Editor at Arenanet, but only briefly. Before that, I worked at a company specialized on patent translations for German and Japanese. And before that, I lived in Shanghai, China for two years. I worked at the World Expo 2010 (German Pavillion, of course) and before that in Business Development at a company in Shanghai.

Lots of moving around continents. I guess, that made me flexible and prepared me to adjust quickly to new situations and see challenges as exciting, not scary. So, bring it on!

After all of that, Bungie offered me a job. How could I have refused?

Achtung! We’re skipping a step in the story of that courtship. How did you get our attention in the first place?

MT:  I had to write a dialogue between two fictional characters. I chose War and Death from Darksiders (I really enjoyed those games). Instead of making them all badass, I put them in a post-apocalyptic diner, eating waffles and apple pie. I got a call and was told they really liked what they read and they thought it was funny. This kicked off the entire (long) interview process.

It is, indeed, a long journey from the first call to your first day. What was the hardest mile of that trek?

MT:  Being alert for the really long interview day. I was sick and hadn´t slept for whatever reason (nerves probably). Before I entered the studio, I took Advil and a 5-hour energy drink to survive. I was a bit scared of the technical questions as well.

Well, you made it. Your travels have brought you to the land of video games and greater-than-average annual precipitation. What is it about Bungie that makes this place worth the trip? And the rain?

MT:  The people. Yeah, yeah, that sounds old and lame, but it’s true nonetheless. I went on a quick vacation back to Germany, and was out of the office for a total of five days, and I missed the studio so much. This realization surprised me because, c'mon, doesn't happen so often, you miss work and your colleagues.

Aside from translating all the ridiculous crap that gets published to the Bungie Blog, what’s been the hardest challenge to overcome during your time here?

MT:  After I had booked tickets to Germany (I hadn't been home in over a year), I was asked if I wanted to go to Gamescom. “Hell yeah!” I said. But that meant I would have to come back to Seattle on Sunday (past midnight), and work all week with jetlag to localize new content for both and Gamescom . I also had to prepare myself to perform with the demo team. I flew back to Germany on Saturday, arriving again on Sunday (after losing some of our teammates and our luggage in Amsterdam). On Monday, we started prepping for the demos we would give in our amazing theatre. Every day, we worked loooong hours, but it was such a great experience with an incredible team! When we finally arrived back home in Seattle, someone said: "Thanks for soldiering through all this!" That made me smile, I have to admit, but enough patting myself on the back. I wouldn't have missed a single second of this crazy ride!

The ride only gets crazier. And faster. How do you keep up with the ever-accelerating pace we set for ourselves here?

MT:  I read as much as possible in German in order to not miss any changes. That might sound funny, but being surrounded by a language that is not your own, and having no one with whom you can converse in that language, is something that has its own dynamics. I´m also member of the IGDA Localization SIG, and I keep on studying/brushing up on other languages in my (spare) free time.

What recommendations would you make to people who want to work in this industry?

MT:  There's not only one path that leads to a goal. Take a leap of faith. Study and work on your education, but don't forget to live in between.

These words of wisdom are hard to refute, but they are not the only truths that lead to a lifestyle of globetrotting and making games. Melanie speaks many of the languages that we employ to impact the lives of gamers. There are many others (including the languages of art and science and mayhem), and we need people to master them. To learn about the other tongues that those among us have mastered, browse our Breaking In archive.
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